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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What's called a "sparrow" isn't really a true sparrow.

White-throated Sparrow
Harris' Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow
When it comes to birds, I have a pet peeve. We’ve all seen what’s usually called sparrows in parking lots, city trees… everywhere. In everyday language, they’re  called house sparrows.  They are not really native sparrows, however, in the proper, scientific sense. They’re weaver-finches
. ”Passeridae” for the botanic-minded.

This is the time of year when the true Sparrows fly down to north Texas (from Canada) to spend the winter. Since they are all mainly ground-feeders, and the ground up north is frozen solid and snow-covered, they like our relative warmth. And the insects/food they have access to.  You’re most likely to see them foraging among “leaf litter” on the ground in large flocks, which often contain other species too.

 Most importantly, the true sparrows aren’t here in the warm months, and they all migrate here for the winter.

The bird that has picked up the name “house sparrow” is not native to this continent (not found here naturally). They were imported from Europe in the late 19th century. The intent was to rid cities of some insects. Instead they reproduced and spread like crazy, mostly because they have no natural enemy on this continent. (Sort of like the imported Kudzu vine has taken over many southern landscapes). Not being native, they are not protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

They seem like cute little birds. But their aggressiveness and domineering habits have made them pests in situations where they live alongside our native birds – particularly Bluebirds and Purple Martins. In fact, you see fewer of these native birds around (especially Bluebirds) because the birds known as house sparrows destroy Bluebird eggs, kill babies, and take over their nesting sites. (They’re here all year long)

Savannah Sparrow
North America’s true Sparrows are here only in the cooler months, and don’t deserve to be called “just sparrows”.  Our Chipping Sparrows, Lincoln Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Harris’ Sparrows, Juncos (a kind of sparrow) and such are subtly attractive and well-behaved, unlike the imported usurper of the name.
Fox Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow




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